Around Halloween, I was surprised of all the Pecan Pie recipes popping up in all the food blogs. I really love pecans - they were unknown in my childhood in Germany, and even nowadays they're not available in every supermarket. But most of the recipes also called for corn syrup which rules out for tow reasons - also basically not available in Germany and also potentially containing too much fructose. So I searched around the internet and found that there are recipes for pecan pie with maple syrup. Now that was right up my alley, as there is basically no fructose in it and the taste is just marvelous. And this pie is really tasty, a crunchy buttery crust, maple syrup and pecans that taste like the candied ones from the fair.
DOUGH (for 2 open 9-inch pies)
250 g / 8 oz / 2 sticks butter
350 g / 12,5 oz flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
8-12 tablespoons vodka (or any other spirit with 40% alcohol)
200 g / 2 cups pecans
250 ml / 1 cup maple syrup
200 g / 1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
75 g / 5 tablespoons butter
3 large eggs
When making pie dough, there is one key rule to remember: CHILL. That includes the ingredients and yourself. First of all, where's the fun if you throw a fit over a non-crusty, non-flaky pie shell? And secondly, this shouldn't happen if you keep the ingredients and the dough on the cool side. And you want a flaky, buttery crust and that only will happen when the butter does not melt in any way (before getting into the oven, of course).
So cut the butter into nice 1/2-inch cubes (I always say about the size of a regular playing dice) and stick them in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Measure the flour, salt and sugar into your largest bowl and give them a couple of quick stirs with a whisk. That way, everything gets mixed well and you don't have to sift it. I like those little workarounds. While the butter is still in the freezer, why not freeze the flour, too? This may seem a little wacky at first, but once you think about it, it makes sense.
OK, everything chilled? Then take a pastry blender and cut the butter into the flour until it looks coarse and crumbly. Some people say until it looks like coarse cornmeal, but I've no idea what that looks like. Anyway, you shouldn't have any big lumps of butter left, but pea-sized is absolutely OK.
As there are no "chemical" leavening agents like baking powder or yeast in this dough, it's more about physics. When the butter flakes melt in the oven, they keep layers of dough apart from each other - hence the flaky texture. In a more extreme way, flaky pastry works the same way. So the only leavening agent here is steam that comes from the water/alcohol in the dough and in the butter (ca. 20% water in butter). While the oven and the dough get hotter, the steam expands the "butter pockets" until the starch in the dough part sets.
No comes the genius part: adding the vodka. Or cachaça, as I didn't have enough vodka. I thought it would be OK as this Brazilian spirit doesn't have much of a distinctive taste either. Drizzle in a tablespoon at a time, then mix the dough with a spatula (hands are too warm, remember?). Repeat until you see a dough forming, then very quickly knead it with your fingertips a few times to incorporate the last crumbs in the bowl.
What's this thing about the vodka? Well, you need some kind of liquid to bring the dough together. Water is fine, but if you start kneading the dough, gluten will form out of wheat proteins and the water. And that will result in a tough and chewy dough. Think of a loaf of bread - there you want all the gluten you can get for a chewy, stable structure.
Alcohol on the other hand, moistens the starch but does not react with the wheat proteins to build gluten and so you have a very tender, flaky and crunchy pie shell. And my suspicion is that the lower boiling point of alcohol helps as well.
Then half it, pack each dough ball tightly into plastic wrap and - of course - chill for an hour. As this batch is enough for 2 pies, you can also go ahead and directly freeze the second half for another time.
By the way, if you're a raw dough eater like me - this one tastes terrible.
I like making double batches - that means going through the trouble once but having twice the fun eating it.
For rolling out the dough, you'll need lots - and I mean lots - of flour. I like to roll out on a silicone mat, that makes transferring the dough to the pie pan a lot easier. If you don't have a plastic mat, sacrifice a 1-quart ZipLoc bag and cut it open. I guess regular plastic wrap will be too thin and tear.
See that miniature rolling pin? I have it since I was 6 - it was in a gift set from my uncle, containing other utensil miniatures. The rest of the set was lost in time and several moves, but the rolling pin somehow survived. It works amazingly well and I don't have really the room for a big one in my kitchen.
OK, roll out the dough until it is a bit bigger than your pie pan. I like those Tefal silicone pans as they have metal incorporated in the rim and are not so terribly wobbly compared to other products.
Now carefully slide your hand under the mat, hold the pie pan with the other hand against and flip it over (do this over the sink because of all the loose flour flying around).
Trim the edges, crimp it any way you like, repair with some patches. Then - surprise! - freeze it for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180°C / 350°F.
Lay a big piece of baking paper on the dough and put in some kind of heat-resistant weight. I used rice, but you can also use beans, special pie weights or some (cleaned) nuts and bolts from the hardware store. Bake 180°C / 350°F, 10-12 min. with weights, then take the paper with the weight out and bake for another 15-18 min.
While the crust bakes, mix together brown sugar, maple syrup, the eggs and the melted butter. You'll need three eggs, I just forgot to shoot a photo with the third egg in.
If you want to, you can roast the pecans in a pan or in the oven while the crust is baking. Either chop them or leave them whole, mix with the syrup. Fill this mixture into the pie crust and bake at 160°C / 325°F for 1 hour. Let it cool and enjoy!